Nick Xenophon: A look beyond the antics reveals a serious political power broker

Nick Xenophon: A look beyond the antics reveals a serious political power broker

Nick Xenophon: A look beyond the antics reveals a serious political power broker

Updated 6 October 2017, 23:30 AEDT

Stunt merchants often struggle to get beyond a reputation for wackiness, but Nick Xenophon has managed to be both notable but also powerful, writes political correspondent Louise Yaxley.

This time he did not bother calling the media to the giraffe enclosure to announce he was sticking his neck out again.

But stunt specialist, anti-pokie campaigner and political powerbroker Nick Xenophon has gambled on another attention-grabbing career flip.

Twenty years after he was first elected to South Australia's Upper House — and a decade after being elected to the Federal Parliament — he is switching back to the smaller pond that he started in.

While the 58-year-old won't be playing at the big federal table as the high-profile leader of the Nick Xenophon Team any more, he leaves behind a team of four in Canberra who will still be implementing his agenda of economic nationalism and centrist — at times, populist — policy.

He has never had trouble getting noticed by the media or voters.

He fostered that with antics like announcing his original switch from state parliament to the Senate by appearing with the Adelaide Zoo's giraffes.

He walked a cow dubbed "Daisy the Cash Cow" to state parliament to protest against gambling revenue and drove a model train on the steps of the building to demonstrate the gravy train of politicians' superannuation entitlements.

When Parliament sat all night to debate new electoral rules for the Senate, he wandered the corridors in a pair of pyjamas.

Stunt merchants often struggle to get beyond a reputation for wackiness, but Senator Xenophon has managed to be both notable and also powerful.

His electoral appeal has pulled others along with him, but at times his political acolytes have subsequently split spectacularly from the eccentric MP.

Senator Xenophon has split previously with his running mate Ann Bressington, who was elected alongside him for state parliament in 2006, and more recently, John Darley, the man who replaced him in the South Australian Upper House.

But he argues he has learned from those experiences, and so far the evidence is that the team he will leave behind in Canberra is solid, with senators Sky Kakoschke-Moore and Stirling Griff in the Upper House and Rebekha Sharkie in a key crossbench seat in the Lower House.

He has promoted himself as an anti-politician, but has always been a smart political operator, wielding his power as a crossbencher to win extra money for the Murray River in 2009, blocking some but not all of the Government's proposed company tax cuts and agitating endlessly for manufacturing jobs in his home state.

What does Xenophon's move mean for the Senate?

His departure is the latest dramatic change in an Upper House elected just over a year ago.

From South Australia alone, Cory Bernardi has quit the Liberal party to head his own political grouping, the Australian Conservatives, and Bob Day was ruled ineligible by the High Court and replaced by Kenyan-born Lucy Gichuhi to represent Family First. The High Court replaced One Nation's Rod Culleton with Peter Georgiou.

Two Greens deputy leaders Scott Ludlam and Larissa Waters have resigned after discovering they were dual citizens — although Larissa Waters is tipped to make a return possibly early next year.

The High Court will deal with others soon, including Nationals ministers Fiona Nash and Matt Canavan, who also have citizenship questions, and One Nation's Malcolm Roberts has already been found to have been a dual citizen when he was elected.

Illness has also shaped the Senate, with Industry Minister Arthur Sinodinos on leave for cancer treatment and Special Minister of State Scott Ryan out for extended leave.

Others have already voluntarily left the Upper House — Labor's Stephen Conroy quit within months of the election and Liberal Chris Back retired recently and has been replaced by Slade Brockman.